Apropos of recent stirrings of hope that marijuana growing for non-medical purposes may soon be legalized, I have excerpted documents from my archives that were written early in the history of Shum and provide these excerpts below for those, probably few, who are interested in historical context. In part, I am doing that to counteract published and unpublished statements by persons unfamiliar with the history of Shum before marijuana completely distorted it.
The particular idea to which I feel most compelled to respond was made on this morning’s Times-Standard editorial page by columnist Morton Kondracke, who claims that growers fear legalization because the price of marijuana will go down. I will not accept that statement without some form of statistical foundation, though I have been hearing it for years from many directions. It is probably true of those growers who never subscribed to the Shummian value system and came to Shum only to grow dope, but it might not be. It may or may not be true of those growers who once did subscribe to those values but now don’t. It is certainly untrue of many growers I have known in Shum in the past.
What annoys me most about Kondracke’s column is that he mindlessly groups “back-to-the-landers”, a highly principled group I studied and wrote about, with “growers”, a category that includes violent criminals, implying that all back-to-the-landers are growers and all growers are back-to-the-landers. On top of being untrue, that is also an insult too great to ignore.
One reason I no longer live in Shum is that there are too many growers and not enough back-to the-landers. And, the former group, in my view, now has entirely too much influence on general cultural decisions in Shum. It is and has been my earnest hope for decades that marijuana would be legalized, just because the bottom would drop out of the market, people could grow for whatever reasons in their own vegetable garden instead of halfway down the mountain and all the crooks would go back to the city because growing would no longer be worth the trouble for them.
Legalization would lower opportunities to winter in Mexico, for sure, but that would be fine with me, too. I’ve always felt the community is best run by those people committed enough to it to pay their dues by living through the sometimes dreary winters. The bottom drops out of the market, the crooks go back to the city, the crime rate drops (hallelujah), single mothers with little children can grow in the garden next to the house and people committed to the community stick around when its raining to keep the alternative schools and their own winter vegetable gardens going–that’s something I’ve always wished for and I don’t believe I’m alone in that.
The following is excerpted from an article published in a local, now-defunct alternative newspaper, in 1978. It is in response to a letter written in a previous issue by a person of obvious spiritual depth, alarmed by the implications of marijuana growing for the community and gently chiding those back-to-the-landers who were incorporating marijuana cultivation into their diversified economic strategies. The article stirred up heated discussions when it was first circulated as a leaflet, then published.
At the time this article was written, there had been at least two dope-related murders in the Briceland area. Strangers with guns, driving too fast on the dirt roads, had appeared in response to the first account of marijuana growing published in a major newspaper (SF Chronicle). But, as far as anyone in my world knew, organized crime had not yet arrived.
Pure Shmint, referred to in the text, is the improvisational drama group I wrote about extensively in Beyond Counterculture. It had recently performed a play about growers.
SOCIAL CHANGE: a politics of pot essay
by Ann I. Elation
As long as we have decided to discuss the social and ethical ramifications of marijuana growing openly, I have some thoughts to contribute that I feel the intelligent decision-maker may find useful. Gurus may not. I leave them to their mountaintops with my blessing. My dharma appears to be action on the physical plane.
First, a brief explanation of the pseudonym. I assume that Sheriff Gene Cox and the relevant agency of the same government that gave us the Vietnam War are quite capable of correlating published names with aerial photographs. While I don’t mind getting busted if it is to serve the purposes of civil disobedience, I do not see getting busted in civil disobedience to be the tactic of choice at this particular juncture. I assure my readers that I do not mind publishing my opinions and my name in any situation short of this one, but I am more useful at this point out of jail, I think.
You may call this position that of the realistic idealist, if you like. I write in response to the opinion sometimes heard in our neighborhood that people may come closer to freedom by not growing. This opinion is sometimes accompanied by references to the spirit of the 1960s and appeals to the egalitarian and socially conscious idealism of that time. Also seen a lot lately are statements and articles dealing with the crumbling economy and the dying environment. I would like to try to relate these ideas to each other by telling you my choice on the growing question and my reasons for that choice.
There can be no doubt that there have been more nasty incidents in “Niceland” (thank you, Pure Shmint, for that beautiful play on words) since marijuana was found to be such a near-perfect crop for our area. On the other hand, in the many years that I’ve considered myself to be on the crest of the wave of social change, I have noticed that, in general, nasty incidents take about five years to catch up with whatever the latest social change has been. Rocking the boat necessarily stirs up all kinds of commotion in the water. You can’t control all of it or even very much of it.
A tactical question among boat-rockers for years has been, do we stop because of the irresponsible actions and uncontrollable bad incidents which occur around our activities? Or do we continue in the hope that we’re stirring up more good changes than bad changes? What appears to happen, usually, is that one decides for oneself at which point one’s actions are causing more undesirable effects than desirable ones.
My choice has been to continue growing dope because I see and have always seen my actions in a worldwide context. You may call it delusions of grandeur or you may call it rationalization. I call it either “responsibility” or “species survival instinct”. In that context, I have seen my immigration here as a last-ditch attempt to change my way of living and by example, explanation and experimentation, to change as much of the culture from which I sprang as I possibly can.
I believe that modern culture must be changed, and ours is the one we’re in a position to change, before it kills itself, the human species and quite likely, all life on the planet. I did not make that up. That’s what the conscientious scientists (there are a few) say. Cultural assumptions, antithetical to the ones with which we were supplied during our enculturation, must be made, must be tested and must be harmonized with each other, for them to work best in the culture to which we aspire. Conflicting assumptions in a culture generate a lot of miserable people. That is one of the problems of the modern world. This testing and experimentation is an organic process, one I see folks around here working on, consciously and unconsciously, all the time.
Next big question. Who will support this experimentation? Who is supporting yours? It is vital, it is desperately needed, but the culture from which we are budding has no provision for the survival of such an experiment and, in fact, has many built-in defenses against it, in spite of the fact that it was founded as a social experiment. Yet, if the species is to survive, basic changes must be made to modern, industrial civilization, our own and all the ones that together threaten our collective survival. Things must become more local. Things must become more egalitarian. The distribution system must be altered so that it is not totally reliant on fossil fuel energy sources. The freedom to destroy must be replaced by the freedom to create. These ideas come from ecology and are being incorporated into our local culture constantly. Some of us live entirely in reference to these ecological realities. Some of us came here only because of these realities.
For us, it is clear that, thinking globally, acting locally as the man said, requires not only a new local economy but a new way of living. Just as importantly, someone has to be working on finding the way for ordinary people to switch, emotionally and practically, from the old culture to the new one. I pray this happens soon enough. We, as individuals and as the idealistic community we like to think we are, must figure out how to break economically with what some of us call The System or we will never get anywhere in implementing culture change in the right direction.
I see marijuana as a possible step in the right direction, in spite of the random bad vibes and events occurring behind its illegality. When the shit hits the fan and the whole industrial complex falls, perhaps after a period of totalitarian government–watch for signs–marijuana will be a useless crop. We’ll need to have our mixed agriculture and animal farms with individual wind, water and solar energy systems (Alternative Energy, I’m looking at you), local healers (yay, Redwood Rural Health Clinic), food cooperation systems (let’s hear it for the Ruby Valley Warehouse) together.
Until then, though, we can keep the experiment going, keep ourselves individually and collectively on our feet, with funds derived from a harmless, ecologically-sound (if grown conscientiously) agricultural product which, please note, is available on a fairly egalitarian basis. In addition to enabling us to get funds for our solar energy and wind systems and to helping us survive while we learn how to balance our farms and gardens and how to live in a more direct relationship with nature, one that includes feedbacks, marijuana is a first step in the right economic direction because:
1) It may replace welfare in some cases. If it is possible to make an exchange with one’s society in which work is traded for money which then converts into survival and this exchange does not entail being controlled in every facet of one’s life from clothing preferences to sexual preferences and it does not entail exploiting anyone else, are we not obligated to make that exchange? I feel that one is obligated to function in one’s society if it is possible to do so without becoming a slave or enslaving someone else. Incidentally, on the suggestion sometimes heard that growers charge exploitative prices, $800 to $1200 a pound for Humboldt Homegrown is an extremely reasonable price if one labors as diligently and lovingly on one’s crop as we do and if one considers the risk factor. Stop whining about the high price if you don’t grow yourself and don’t know what goes into it.
Some people must be on welfare. They are totally justified if they truly know they have no choice. You can’t grow much and take care of small children single-handedly, for instance. But now that there is a possibility for a less questionable exchange, I personally no longer feel justified in using funds reserved for people who are not able to make any kind of exchange.
2) Growing is available to persons who have and have had no other source of funds. In addition to those who are unemployable for reasons they can’t help, I am referring to those folks who did not get a trust fund from Grandma, or “loans” from Daddy, or savings from a good job they knew was exploiting someone or perpetuating some form of social or environmental disaster, or profits from businesses in which the capital came from those or similar sources. The industrial complex has been able to do what it has done because of a social structure that controls the access of most people to resources. In that, at least, Marx was right.
People who did not benefit from inherited or ill-gotten wealth, who may have been excluded from appropriate employment because of their sex, race, sexual preferences, political opinions or an imperfect kowtow are forced to work at menial jobs for others who were not so excluded. This enables the upper classes, a small percentage of the total human population, to redistribute the total amount of goodies, giving most of them to themselves. That’s not ideology. That’s a fact. Statistics support it. In America, right now, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and a whole lot of people are unemployed. Look it up.
Marijuana growing enables each grower to produce his/her survival right out of the ground, without allowing rich folks to take most of it and control his/her life into the bargain. Isn’t it obvious why our culture so despises that relationship? No bosses, no status based on wealth, no chance to enjoy luxuries at the expense of one’s fellow human…..To whom is that dream a nightmare? Not to those of us at the bottom of the economic ladder.
3) It encourages people who have not been trained to grow their own—everything. Marijuana growing provides an incentive to urban-raised people to learn how to grow, period. There is fast coming a time when this skill is going to be vital to our community, if we do in fact have one, and to the survival of the species. Modern culture is unsustainable. Those who survive the collapse will be those who are in a position to grow their own. If you can grow marijuana, you can surely grow brocolli, potatoes and corn. Teach your children well, folks.
So, if you have assessed your own karma and your own circumstance and have come to the conclusion that your growing scene is causing you more trouble than your not-growing scene, then stop growing, by all means, and go take your next step towards complete economic independence from The System. Just be sure you have some alternative that is not even more likely to produce evil deeds, perhaps conveniently at a distance so you won’t have to see them.
And, there’s no reason for anyone to think that they are any closer to truth or freedom than anyone else because they are not growing. Some of us feel that the situation is not so wonderfully abstract–a lesson we learned in that very crucible of the 1960s some claim the growers have betrayed. I, myself, am not yet advanced enough in my spiritual development that I can meditate on a mountain while the culture of which I am a creative part murders life itself. At the moment, I see my dharma as being to fight for the right to equal, direct and loving access for all to the resources of the earth, including marijuana.
Letter to the editor, Star Root Journal, 1982
Dear Star Root:
Four years ago I wrote an anonymous article for Star Root defending marijuana growing on the Marxist grounds that it equalized control of resources. I also argued that in terms of long-range survival in the event of the collapse of western civilization, to one degree or another and for various reasons, growing was functional in that people who never would have grown so much as a carrot were learning the survival skill of growing, period. I thought then that growing was a bubble which would surely burst and that idealistic ecologically oriented people such as we like to think we are should “get it while we can” and pour it into our land as insurance against the hard times comin’.
I did not forsee the degree to which it would impact on our dream–the dream which I had, perhaps, deluded myself into thinking we had. Now we see violence, greed, murders and perhaps worst of all, alienation from each other–millions of locked gates, a complete breakdown at certain times of the year of everything beautiful we had–co-operation, trust, interdependence, a real love and openness to each other. All those things that kept me plugging away for eleven years are very difficult for me to see anymore.
Was it worth it? I ask myself as well, for sure, because the Goddess knows, I wanted money, too. But how much do we need? What are we willing to give up for it? Is what we gave up worth the amount we gain by the fact that marijuana is illegal? What if we were small farmers and marijuana were simply our cash crop to cover extras, like it used to be? Could we be a community again? Don’t we want it back?
There is a bill right now, sponsored by Willie Brown, which would legalize cultivation for sale and limit it to small farmers, keeping out corporations. I call upon everyone who came here hoping for a new way of life to support this bill and all efforts to legalize marijuana that protect the small farmer. Here are some points about legalization which you may not yet have realized:
1) Because marijuana is illegal, whole groups of people, particularly women, are deprived of civil justice. Think about it. Can you sue a grower up front for child support? alimony? “palimony”? What if you worked as hard being a housewife as he worked being a grower but he thinks the money is his because he was the one in the patch? and you didn’t get legally married because of your existential love of freedom? can you get even the justice mainstream American women get in the courts? even that?
What about workers. Can you sue a grower for unpaid wages? breech of contract? Can you join a farm worker’s union or make one for pot growing workers? Unemployment? Disability? Worker’s compensation? If you get busted in the patch, who pays legal fees? What about neighbors’ arguments over water and road access? Tenant farmers and rent disputes? Because marijuana is illegal the real facts cannot be brought up in court, therefore conflicts are settled by vengeance, blackmail, stealing and violence of all kinds.
We didn’t come up with a system of justice to replace the old one, we went for Dylan’s line “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” So, we’re right back to the rule of fang and claw, domination of the little by the big. The only recourse some folks have is whatever justice may be found in straight courts, and please don’t tell me anything about karma–the Indian upper castes have used that one for centuries to exploit the lower castes. That’s a personal religious orientation, not a system of social justice.
2) If it were legal, it could be grown much more efficiently and much less wastefully, with fewer environmental hazards. Water lines, little bitty isolated patches, how environmentally sound is all that? If it were legal, it could be grown closer to the roads, thereby reducing the fire danger that is increased when fire trucks can’t get to a fire caused by a careless grower maybe lighting up in the patch. I have seen the PVC lines burning. Grown properly, marijuana could be a much more ecologically sound economic base than irresponsible logging, for instance.
3) If it were legal, it could be taxed. If it could be taxed, we would carry infinitely more political clout than we do now, not to mention that we could be more responsible citizens. There is right now enormous political pressure in the county government to rezone So. Hum. County so that more taxes can be generated from smaller parcels and more people with legal taxable incomes would live on them and to hell with ecological considerations like how much water is there, etc.
We use county services like schools, parks, roads, police, courts and garbage disposal as much as anyone, yet we don’t pay for it in proportion to our incomes. If we paid, we could get more and better services and, not too incidentally, those of us who find it difficult to grow (read women, landless poor folks, persons allergic to it, persons with purple thumbs) might be able to find worthwhile employment providing those services–teachers, road maintenance, tree planting and landscaping, etc. )….
I don’t mean to be at all self-righteous, but I believe the death of this community lies in the continuation of the the greed brought about by the fact that illegally grown marijuana sells for more than legally grown marijuana would. Aren’t we sick of it? Aren’t you? Can’t we get rid of the gates and find each other again? What’s the cure for this sickness? Legalization is one.
[This was written at a time when I was not using a last name.]
How to Fight Whirlybirds
Excerpted from my column, The Opinion Nut, published in the now defunct Briceland Community High School newspaper, The Briceland Ecologian, Summer, 1984.
I used to think helicopters were cute. When I was a child, we lived less than two miles from the Opa Locka Marine Air Base in greater Miami (a lower working class area, definitely not the beach!), so I had a chance to get acquainted with military aircraft. I remember how terrified I was when we first moved there. I was five and my first experience with a jet plane, enormous and loud, filling the sky so low over our house, left me screaming. So, when “whirlybirds” showed up, I was relieved and thought of them as the “Mickey Mouses” of the sky.
Then came the Vietnam War, which I helped to fight on the Berkeley front. There came a day when my friends and I …spotted police (on campus) in full riot gear, complete with gas masks. (They) … had formed a circle all around the plaza, letting people in but not out. …A helicopter circled low over the area and a very strange-looking one it was, too. Sinister, you might say.
It made one pass over the manufactured crowd and then leaned away into the hills. A small ruckus was developing near me as people realized they couldn’t get out (of the police circle). Most people focused their attention on that, but for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off the helicopter. Then it came to me. It was an extra big one, just like the kind they used in Vietnam. Would they drop napalm on us? No, I don’t think so. What else do they do with those helicopters? Gas! Would they gas us?
I saw it turn back towards campus. I thought to myself, “If they gas us from that helicopter, my life will never be the same again.” And they did. And it wasn’t. …Later, the three of us drove up to the Berkeley Rose Garden and surveyed the scene from the hills. It was while watching several helicopters circling campus that we agreed that such repression could not be fought directly. We could only escape from it and hope to live our lives in opposition to it. Within a year, all of us had left Berkeley to find the best place to do that.
Well, here I am in the country, trying to live peacefully and in an ecologically sound manner and here are the helicopters. What happened? Lots of people say greed, but I don’t fully agree with that analysis. I don’t see an inordinate amount of greed among the people who came here for reasons similar to mine…What I do see is fear. Please notice that I don’t say “paranoia”, a much misused word that means “irrational fear”. The fear I see is quite rational. We have every reason to be afraid. There have been murders, violent rip-offs by the authorized and the unauthorized, arson, gunfights. We hide behind our many gates and are afraid of our neighbors, often not having any idea who our neighbors are.
….The helicopters and all they represent are isolating us from each other. So, what’s the answer? The answer I hear first uttered by many is that we should stop growing and many people have stopped or cut way down. I would just like to point out, as an observation, that stopping growing is much easier for those who came here with money or a profession to start with. Not only are there no jobs here, not only are most of us unemployed, but most of us have been rendered unemployable in ordinary jobs by virtue of the psychological damage sustained fighting repression in the past and/or by our constitutional inability to emulate robots, a flaw which may have led us here to start with. …
(Another) answer to the “helicopter problem” (they are a little like a plague of grasshoppers, are they not?) is legalization. I like this one. The bottom drops out of the market–great! The crooks all leave, taking all the helicopters with them and we are small farmers. We grow herbs for connoisseurs, grow it organically, efficiently and in an ecologically sound manner, pay our taxes and expect better roads, garbage and emergency services in exchange. The price of real estate drops back to normal, population growth slows down (there are limits to the number of people this area can support ecologically) and we get people who are interested in truly living here (when you sell your land, do you ever consider to whom you are selling? ) As small diversified farmers, we explore other crops to grow and feed ourselves on our own farm products. Wonderful!
…Nice dream, but it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. So what do we do in the meantime? Fight the fear. Fight it with community. Strengthen, as Bob Dylan says, “the things that remain.” We question the point at which fear becomes paranoia. We question whether we really need to distrust as much as we do. We try to be together as much as we can, to know each other, to limit the hold that fear has on us. We can do that any way we see to do it on a personal level and we can do it as a community by strengthening our community organizations and our commitment to them.
Did you see the film The Big Chill, in which the values of the sixties are portrayed as dead? They weren’t the values of the sixties, they were values that go back to the very roots of human consciousness. And they aren’t dead.
After the Mateel Community Center burned down, I was shocked to hear that all that “ideological stuff” had burned down with it. Maybe I’m a fool, but I don’t believe that, either. At the moment, all we have to fight the helicopters with, besides, of course, civil suits, is each other. What we are building here, our way of life and consciousness, growers and non-growers alike, is far too precious to die on the vine because we let fear isolate us from each other. Let’s grab our community and our dream back from the helicopters.